No matter what Microsoft, Steve Ballmer or anybody else does, Windows 8 just won't become a dominant piece of software. Just take a one look at this absolute must-click database from Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based research shop Net Market Share. There, on the Desktop Operating System Market Share analysis page, you'll see that after more than a decade of deployment, the ancient, unsupported, utterly unsafe Windows XP still splits the market with Windows 7, with about a 41% market share. AAPL), too, struggles to get folks to migrate to different takes on its Mac OS X. Worse, if you drill down into the data, you will see that the OS market subdivides into dozens of tiny niches broken down by browser, OS group, device type and -- a new wrinkle in the digital nightmare -- the search engine. That all means the world will never again see a one-size-fits-all OS as in the golden age of Windows.
If this fractured OS market model were not nutty enough, it's critical to remember that Microsoft is sort of fibbing here. It is not actually shipping just Windows 8. It is shipping four different Windows 8s. There is one for the PC and most tablets -- the one you're seeing in the Eagles of Death Metal spots on TV. It has various home, student and pro editions, in the $70 range. There is another critical riff on the OS called Windows RT. It's the mobile processor-oriented version that supports Microsoft's coolest product in years -- the Surface portable tablet and keyboard device. RT will not be sold via Web channels or through PC partners as is traditional, but only when built in, a la Apple, to its Surface line of devices. But, wait, there's more. The next 8 is called Windows Phone 8, which is the mobile version that plays on many smartphones. I am not the one making the connection between Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone 8; I can leave that to Mr. Gates himself. Here he is quoted in a blog post by MIchael Stroh that comments on all three products together. Microsoft Office 365 and Windows Live. These are essentially the Web-based versions of Windows 8. Though Redmond does not market them as one, we have been testing these tools for easily over a year and, I assure you, Office 365 is as much a part of Windows 8 as anything the company makes. Just click on the online demo for Office 365 and you'll immediately see it's all of the same OS cloth. Playing the 8 hate
Here we are again facing yet more grim investor big think. Despite the negative vibe, Microsoft has not lost its mind with Windows 8. Frustrations aside, I have found the system to be fast, light and secure. It works very well across all its various platforms, particularly between Windows Phone 8 and Office 365. Investors should be sure to be positioned to take advantage of the near certainty that companies and consumers will deploy it. But the notion -- and investing economics -- of a single OS that dominates and rationalizes the PC market is going the way of the mouse and the keyboard. We now live in a world where the world's most successful brand, Apple, is not a worldwide brand. It deploys to only a fraction of total global users. What lies ahead is a tricky market of combined niches. If Microsoft can make the sum of these parts more than just Windows 8, Redmond most definitely can stem the tide of its decline. If not, Windows 9 will not save them.